Loving God More Than …

I am currently working at composing a wedding song for some young people that attempts to emphasize the Biblical truth that they should each love God more than they love their soon-to-be-spouse.  For if they love God first and foremost, they will love their spouse appropriately.  Loving God first and foremost puts all other affections into proper perspective.  We are often tempted to love certain people in such a manner that we disobey God in the process.  Our affections are out of order.

With that in mind, some  applicatory questions related to that truth are in order.

Do I as a pastor love God more than I love the flock of God among which I minister?

Do I as a pastor love God more than I love the individual sheep within the flock of God among which I minister?

Do I as a church member love God more than I love other members of the flock or the pastor of flock?

Do I as a parent love God more than I love my children?

Do I as a child love God more than I love my parents?

Obviously this principle applies across the board in our lives.  It is simply an application of the truth Jesus taught us in  Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (NET)

It is also an application of the truth taught in such passages as First John 5:2-3.


What is Unnecessary in an Assistant Pastor

If I were to ever have an assistant pastor to aid me in pastoral ministry, there are several Biblical qualities I can think of.  However, there is certainly one item that I would not desire in an assistant.  In a word, agenda.  It would seem that having an assistant pastor who has an agenda would be serious potential trouble for both pastor and congregation.  In a recent conversation with a longtime pastor, he mentioned that he knew of few if any men who would truly be content with being second.  “Everyone has an agenda, or so it seems.  No one is willing to play second trumpet.  No one wants to be second.”

This is also true musically, of course.  In a trumpet trio that I had the privilege of participating with for a couple of years in college, it was necessary for us to be willing to play second (and even third) trumpet in addition to the melody line of the first trumpeter. If all three of us wanted to be heard the most, the melody would get lost amidst the competition.  This is obviously neither helpful to anyone nor is it pleasing to the ears.

So it is with a pastoral leadership team.  Too many want to be first; too few are willing to play the second or third parts.  The results of such pastoral competition can be damaging to all involved.

I remember talking with one assistant pastor years ago who stated, and his wife reinforced, that although he was an assistant, what he really wanted was to be a senior pastor.  In time, his desire was finally fulfilled, but at great cost to the congregation he was serving as an assistant.  He was unwilling and unable to play the second or third part.

This is part of what James refers to when he says, to paraphrase, if you find yourself surrounded by confusion and other evil things, look around for jealousy and selfish ambition.  It won’t be too far away. (cf. James 3:16)

Salvation or Therapy?

David F. Wells, in his helpful book God in the Whirlwind, reminds us of the following:

There is, for many people, no God “above” them who is relevant to their daily preoccupations.  They intend no new radicalism and would be quite shocked to know how far out they really are.  They simply are uninterested in a God who is other than themselves, who inhabits a realm that cannot be accessed by intuition.  These are people deeply preoccupied with their own selves, and often with not much else.  They are the harbingers of a new cultural narcissism.  They are attuned to their own internal aches, pains, and confusions, and for them, the world “out there” is overshadowed by the world “within.”  Their wounds become the prism through which they see all of reality.  It is through this prison that they see God.  And the value that God has for them is simply his value in resolving these internal pains and wounds.

This is a therapeutic vision.  It is not a moral one.  And what is often missed is that evil can be defined only in a moral existence, not in one that is simply therapeutic and psychological.  There is no evil in the therapeutic world.  There is only pain.

The truth, though, is that behind our pain, behind our many troubles, there is radical evil even if there are many who are blind to it.  And when we line evil up against the expressed will of God, we get something even more serious than evil. We get sin.  Without an understanding of sin, life is simply beyond explanation.  We are left simply with therapies to help soften the blows, while hat we really need is redemption.

God is elevated over all of life.  God is God.  We are but a part of his creation and dependent on him.  He is it’s center. We are its periphery.  He is infinite.  In our humanity, we are but fading and finite.  Between Creator and creation is a boundary.  There is no place for pantheism in a biblical worldview.  All spiritualities that begin within the self, building on the self as their religious source, are false.  The self cannot reach out, in, or up and find God in a redemptive way.  All of these cultural spiritualities have assumed that the boundaries set between Creator in creature, between the holy God and sinners, can be crossed from our side and crossed naturally and easily.  It cannot.  Only God, the infinite Creator and the one who is utterly holy, can cross these boundaries.  They are crossed only from “above,” and they can be crossed only by God himself.  He rules; we are ruled.  He acts; we are acted upon.  He gives life; we receive it.  We are sustained in his providence.  We are not self-sustaining in our existence.  We live in his world.  He is not, therefore, an intruder in our world.  In short, he is above and we are below. (110-111)

Responding to Bad Decision-making

Toward the end of his helpful book The Pyramid and the Box, Pastor Joel Tetreau gives a four-fold piece of advice in responding to (unfortunately) inevitable bad decision-making within a congregation.

The first responsibility that we have is to make sure that we fully understand what was done.   When [people] respond to the decisions of others, they don’t always have all of the needed information.  They are tempted to respond to what they see, which is frequently only a part of the whole story.  The second issue of concern that should guide us is a commitment to a assuming the best.  Third, there needs to be a baseline of compassion.  Is there more going on than meets the eyes?  Individuals that have made a bad decision may be frustrated or confused.  They may feel compelled to make some kind of change or some kind of decision.

Fourth, after a failure, [people] need to be challenged to do better. … Encouragement of [people], especially those who have failed at some kind of decision, is important.  They need to understand [the] ramifications of their poor decisions, deal with them and move on. (166)

Thank you Pastor Tetreau for sharing these things with us.

On Changing Ministry Positions

Some years ago an acquaintance of mine shifted from one particular field of ministry to another.  He received a poem written for that occasion, a part of which I will share with you.

Move on, O man of God, and teach

the Word to different sheep.

The Shepherd knows whom you can reach

with gracious words of love.  Sleep

not on your new found watch;

the wolves from tireless packs

wait for a drowsy sentinel

to plan for their attacks.

Trust in the wisdom of your God

to lead where you’ll be made

steadfast upon the road you trod.

Fresh courage take, delight in all

the works of Him who reigns.

He is not finished with His plan

to give you grace as your strength wanes.

Full of compassion, mercy, grace,

long-suffering, kind, and true.

He is worthy of your deepest trust

As He works His will in you.

Our Distorted View of God’s Love and Holiness

In recent decades in America, we have drifted out of the moral world in which we once lived and which the biblical authors inhabit. Now, we think not of right and wrong but of inward hurts and psychological healing. We look less for redemption and more to techniques of self-management. So, we naturally associate love with open arms, warmth, listening, caring, healing, and acceptance. With holiness, we associate what is colder, more distant, more alarming, and more impersonal. We think of rules, standing before the face of justice, condemnation, and rejection. In some religions there are “holy man” who separate themselves from life and live in their own peculiar ways. We see them from time to time on TV. They reinforce what we are inclined to think about holiness anyway. It is that what is holy is alien, cold, odd, uninviting, distant, and sometimes inhumane.

We are instinctively drawn to love. We are easily repelled by holiness.

We need … to think more concretely, more biblically, about the meaning of holiness.

(David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind, 102)

For His Own Self-Glory

While not discounting the theme of redemption in the Bible, a closer inspection of God’s activity reveals a more primitive goal and plan that unifies the Scriptures and all things external to God—His own self-glory. Everything God does outside of His self-contained tri-unity is self-referential. He does all things to bring praise, honor, glory and worship to Himself. And, this principle must incorporate all that God does from the original creation to its consummation in the eschaton. The principle of divine self-glorification consists ultimately of God’s desire to establish a rule of loving sovereignty with creatures in His image and to live with them eternally. And, the heart and soul of that unifying center is the coming of God the Son in human flesh and form.  (Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3:330-331)

Poem Related to First John 4:19

Came across this poem in D. Edmond Hiebert’s helpful commentary on John’s epistles.  It was written by the English poet Dora Greenwell (1821-1882).

It was for me that Jesus died! for me, and a world of men

Just as sinful and just as slow to give back His love again;

He didn’t wait till I came to him, but He loved me at my worst;

He needn’t ever have died for me if I could have loved him first.

A Sad Summary of Three Abusive Pastors

The abuse of others by pastors is certainly sinful.  But it is significantly worse when that abuse is directed toward those within his own home or church.  Here are three different real life scenarios.  Sadly, I learned of these situations too late to have any direct influence.

Pastor number 1–abusive of his children–”I would never combine into the same sentence the words ‘father’ and ‘love’ unless it said something about my father not loving me.”

Pastor number 2–abuse of his wife–”I can no longer sit through a service where he is the teacher because what he teaches publicly is contradicted by what he says and does at home with me.”

Pastor number 3–abusive of his church–”Every church he has associated himself with has suffered the consequences of his critical and divisive spirit.”

It would do us all well to review and make use of both the Abuse Chart and the Cycle of Abuse.

Curiously, each of these men give/gave the public impression of being quiet, sober-minded men.  No one would believe an accusation of abuse against him.  These abuse victims live/have lived in fear for far too long.

May God give us grace to be more discerning of this sin.  May He give us grace to be quick to step up and defend these victims.  Let us remember the wise words of Solomon, “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.” (Proverbs 21:15, NAU)

Learn from the Geese

The other day while out chopping and moving some ice, I heard the familiar sound of honking geese.  Looking up into the blue sky, it took me a while to locate them.  But then my eyes focused on what appeared to be over one hundred geese flying in their familiar V-formation.  And then today, in the mail arrived the long-awaited copy of Pastor Gene Getz’s book Elders and Leaders (Moody Press, 2003).  In the first chapter, Getz uses the V-formation of the geese as an illustration.  He notes the following:

  • As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow.  By flying in a”V” formation, the flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
  • When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone.  It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of him.
  • When the lead bird tires, it rotates back into the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
  • The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
  • When a bird gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it.  They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again.   Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Perhaps the most striking lesson of leadership to take from a “flock of birds” is that they carry out their purpose on earth as God designed them.” (pp. 23-25)


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